Giving up the geist: Power, history and the culture concept in the long Boasian tradition

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5 Scopus citations


For most of the 20th century, American anthropology lacked an adequate theoretical framework for dealing with power. In 1982, Wolf not only provided such a framework but placed power at the top of the anthropological agenda. In this light, Wolf's project anticipates many of the later themes that would come to be developed by post-structuralist and postmodernist theorists. Yet, even as Wolf envisaged an anthropology of the future, he paid generous tribute to the past. Europe and the People without History brought the Boasian position full circle by returning to the concerns of the early German diffusionists who, whatever their other shortcomings, could think world-historically without resorting to progressive evolutionism or essentialist notions of Volksgeist. Reactivating the diffusionist wing of American anthropology by injecting it with a theory of power, Wolf cleared the path for a belated synthesis of Boasian and Marxian thought.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-11
Number of pages7
JournalCritique of Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Boasianism
  • Diffusionism
  • Eric Wolf
  • Marxism
  • Power

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)

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